Monday 1 April 2024

Captain Arenas` Last Stand

Captain Arenas` Last Stand

Mount Arruit, Morocco, 29th July 1921

Painting by Ferres-Dalmau of Capt. Arenas last stand

Félix Luís Arenas Gaspar was born in Puerto Rico on 13th December 1891, the son of an artillery captain of the same name. The family returned to Spain to Molina de Aragon and this is where young Félix grew up until in 1906, aged fourteen, he entered the Academy of Engineers of Guadalajara. At the age of eighteen he is promoted to lieutenant. He served as a lieutenant in the Aerostation Service and Engineer Material Workshops of Guadalajara, until October 1913 when he was temporarily sent with troops to North Africa. In Africa he was part of the Aerostation Company in Tetouan which was supporting the troops fighting the Riffi rebels.

At twenty one he was promoted to Captain and in 1919 he was transferred to the Engineers Command of Melilla and put in command of the 2nd Company of Zapadores, with whom he carried out numerous campaign fortification works. In November 1920 he took command of the Telegraph Company of the Permanent Network of Melilla and its territory. As part of his new command, he had to travel out on inspection tours to make sure the equipment was working and set-up properly. During these tours he sometimes found himself under enemy fire, or that the positions had moved without informing his command!

When the collapse of the Melilla Command occurred on 23rd July 1921, Captain Arenas was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ugarte who was moving towards Dar Dríus. Upon arriving at Batel they found a squadron of the Alcantara Cavalry Regiment, retreating from Ben Tieb who informed the Colonel that the road to Dar Drius was cut by the enemy.

On Friday, July 29, General Navarro ordered a general withdrawal of Spanish troops to Mount Arruit. Captain Arenas asked permission to command of the rear guard, made up of about 200 men. As the main straggling column retreated towards the base and hopefully safety, Capt. Arenas organises his rear guard. His command forms an orderly withdrawal covering the rear of the column, Arenas is noted moving among the various rear guard positions encouraging his men; he always seemed to be at the point where danger threatened. He calmness and clearheaded command is credited as being one of the main reasons Gen. Navarro`s column safely reached Mount Arruit. Most troops from the rear guard were lost, dead, wounded or prisoners, but they managed to contain the enemy long enough for the tail of the column to get to the relative safety of the base.

General Felipe Navarro

Eventually what was left of the rear guard was surrounded, the Riffi swarmed around them cutting them off and making further retreat impossible! Capt. Arenas fighting among the survivors with a rifle standing with his men urging them to greater effort. When Captain Blanco`s battery (75mm guns) was about to be over run, Arenas leads a small detachment to defend them, so impressed by his bravery even the Riffians seem to step back and admire the effort. They halt their attack; but only for a brief moment and then Arenas is killed!

Inside Mount Arruit, officers (Lieutenants Calderon and Sanchez) who had witnessed the events and immediately went to General Navarro and asked that Captain Arenas` bravery be recognised. For his heroic performance, he was posthumously awarded Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand (Spanish: Cruz Laureada de San Fernando).

Mount Arruit held out against the Riffians until August 9th when Navarro surrendered his command.

In 1928 a monument was erected to Captain Arenas in Molina de Aragón.

Another interesting skirmish type scenario which could be fought on a table top.

First we have the rear guard delaying the Riffi from falling on the straggling column, I`d set a time limit for the rear guard to hold out against randomly arriving harkas of Riffi. You could add a random element to allow for the Riffi to use their better field craft to arrive on the flanks or even behind the various rear guard positions. Give Capt. Arenas a bonus effect on those men he is with boosting both their morale and fire discipline. The Riffi need to overcome the rear guard within the set number of turns, if not the Spanish gain a victory (if a pyrrhic one).

Baraka Miniature`s Spanish Infantry 
A bonus action could be trying to save one or more of Capt. Blanco`s guns, this would of course require men to leave the firing line, reducing the effectiveness of the rear guard. Or as a stand alone 1 to 1 skirmish game, you could give the Spanish player (or players) a chance to actually save a gun!  

28mm `75 and crew from my collection

As I write this Baraka Miniatures of Madrid have produced a special miniature based on Ferres-Dalmau painting of Capt. Arenas last stand to go with their Spanish infantry figures, this figure is only available as part of special deal. Baraka are continuing to expand their impressive range for the period which includes: Legionnaires, Riffi and Spanish cavalry & infantry with soon to be released Regulares Indgenes. These figures would of course be perfect for recreating this action on a tabletop.

My poor attempt of painting up this excellent miniature

Images of Monte Arruit after it was retaken by the Spanish on October 24th


  1. That sounds especially fierce. Plenty of bravery shown in the face of overwhelming odds ⚔️⚔️

    1. "El Desastre" as Spanish history calls the retreat from Annual in 1921 is littered with stories like this one. Unfortunately only rare Spanish officers showed this kind of leadership and courage (a few have already been written about on this blog). I have more stories to tell of Spanish courage and my table is already set-up for one such story :)

  2. I do like reading these slices of history you post. Thank you!

  3. Another beautifully written, short story, on action from the Spanish-Rif war. And a mini figure review thrown in too, for 28mm gamers!
    What is there not too like!! Some years ago I was nearly tempted to do a model of that arch as a focal point for a game!! Nearly...

  4. Cheers Carl, this piece has been on the to finish list for ages, getting the special figure from Baraka just allowed me to complete it. More Rif War stuff to come.